Though derailed, Texas set up to return
With exception of Wilson, club's core locked in for 2012
ST. LOUIS -- The World Series is over, and at 11:01 p.m. CT on Saturday, Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson is going to be a free agent. Standing in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse on Friday after the Rangers' 6-2 loss to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series, Wilson wasn't ready to talk about what's next for him."The only thing I'm thinking about is getting out of these clothes and taking a shower," Wilson said. "Other than that, I'm driving to California and going to a wedding. One of my friends is getting married. That's the only thing that's going on with me. I don't know what will happen next." What happens next is that the offseason will start for the Rangers, who will begin the process of putting together another championship-caliber team. Wilson's situation is a big question mark, but the Rangers walked out of Busch Stadium on Friday night determined to make it three trips to the Fall Classic in a row next year. "Obviously, this will stink for a while," first baseman Michael Young said. "But this will wear off in time, and we'll get back at it. We're not going to sit here and use this Series as motivation. We just know this is a championship-caliber team. That's good enough. This is a great group of guys. We don't need to make changes. We just need to keep going."
At first glance, the Rangers appear to be in good shape as far as being able to repeat as American League champions. Regardless of what happens with Wilson, they still expect to bring back four other starters in Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. They'll retain Neftali Feliz as their closer, unless he's moved into the rotation. The bullpen will have to be reworked, but that's an annual event.Some of the Rangers' position players need to get healthy. Josh Hamilton could end up undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia that has been bothering him for two months. "I'm going to take at least week off and go see a doctor in Philadelphia," Hamilton said. "I'll let him check me out, do some scans. If there's something he needs to fix, he'll fix it." Others are nursing nagging injuries, but the Rangers should have their entire lineup intact when Spring Training opens in February. "Most of the club is going to be back," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We have a lot of guys in their primes, and the pipeline's full. We talked all postseason about the work of our organization -- big league staff, Minor League staff, scouts. We've got a running start, so to speak. But there's always a lot of work to be done, and we have to start looking at that." Starting pitching will take up much of the front office's time, whether it's trying to re-sign Wilson, potentially moving Feliz to the rotation or hoping that Japanese ace Yu Darvish wants to pitch in the United States. The Rangers have to exercise a $3.25 million option on Lewis, but that should be the ultimate no-brainer. The other three are just finishing their first full seasons as starters and could form the core of the Rangers' rotation for the next three to four years. Harrison is entering his first year of salary arbitration, while Holland and Ogando both have fewer than three years of service time. "It's a great group of core players," Lewis said. "We're looking forward to next year and getting back here again. That's all there is to it." Moving Feliz to the rotation remains a strong possibility. The Rangers considered that this past spring before leaving him as closer. They still place a higher premium on using their best talent in the rotation than in the bullpen, and Feliz may be more receptive to the move after all that has transpired, including his struggles in Game 6, when he surrendered a game-tying two-run triple with the Rangers one strike from a championship. Getting over that blown save is going to be tough. "I'll remember the pitch that I gave up -- the triple," Feliz said. "I've made that pitch a lot of times this season. I just have to forget about it." The Rangers still have Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner in 2009 who re-established himself as an effective reliever during this postseason. He is signed next season for $6.25 million. Then there is Darvish, the 25-year-old right-hander from Japan who remains undecided if he will jump to the United States next season. If he does, the Rangers will likely be interested, although it could take more than $100 million to get it done. "Our mindset, as soon as this season is over, is going to be, 'How do we get back? How do we figure out a way to do it and keep it going?'" Daniels said. "I'm really proud of everything we've accomplished to this point, and hopefully we can add something to it. I think we have a chance to do it if we keep making good decisions and our players keep playing at this level." The Rangers know they have enough offense, and they are content to let Mitch Moreland grow at first base rather than chase after free-agent first basemen Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. The Rangers would rather use that money on pitching, and they are already dealing with a growing payroll. The Rangers spent approximately $92 million this season and will likely exceed that next year. Once they have exercised the option on Lewis, they will have almost $70 million allocated to eight players: Young, Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Yorvit Torrealba, Koji Uehara, Feldman and Lewis. They could also have as many as 10 players eligible for arbitration. If Feliz is shifted to the rotation, the Rangers will have to replace him at the back end of the bullpen. Mike Adams and Mark Lowe could be the in-house candidates, but Texas could also look hard at a free-agent list that includes Heath Bell, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez. The Rangers will also have to review their left-handed relief, as Darren Oliver and Michael Gonzalez are both free agents. Oliver would likely be easy to re-sign if he decides to play one more year, while Gonzalez is likely to sign elsewhere. The Rangers also have to get over the disappointment of a second World Series defeat in as many seasons. But Daniels sees this team having no troubles doing that. He sees a team that will be ready to make another run when Spring Training rolls around. "This club is unbelievably resilient, unbelievably mentally strong top to bottom, No. 1 through 25, and [manager Ron Washington], obviously that's where it comes from," Daniels said. "So no. People asked us this year in Spring Training, 'Is there going to be a World Series hangover?' Obviously, there wasn't."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.